Barnes stood on the wide stairs looking down through a wide hall into the living-room of the country place and at the group of youths. His friend Schofield was addressing some benevolent remarks to them, and Barnes did not want to interrupt; as he stood there, immobile, he seemed to be drawn suddenly into rhythm with the group below; he perceived them as statuesque beings, set apart, chiseled out of the Minnesota twilight that was setting on the big room.
In the first place all five, the two young Schofields and their friends, were fine-looking boys, very American, dressed in a careless but not casual way over well-set-up bodies, and with responsive faces open to all four winds. Then he saw that they made a design, the faces profile upon profile, the heads blond and dark, turning toward Mr. Schofield, the erect yet vaguely lounging bodies, never tense but ever ready under the flannels and the soft angora wool sweaters, the hands placed on other shoulders, as if to bring each one into the solid freemasonry of the group. Then suddenly, as though a group of models posing for a sculptor were being dismissed, the composition broke and they all moved toward the door. They left Barnes with a sense of having seen something more than five young men between sixteen and eighteen going out to sail or play tennis or golf, but having gained a sharp impression of a whole style, a whole mode of youth, something different from his own less assured, less graceful generation, something unified by standards that he didn't know. He wondered vaguely what the standards of 1920 were, and whether they were worth anything--had a sense of waste, of much effort for a purely esthetic achievement. Then Schofield saw him and called him down into the living-room.
"Aren't they a fine bunch of boys?" Schofield demanded. "Tell me, did you ever see a finer bunch?"
"A fine lot," agreed Barnes, with a certain lack of enthusiasm. He felt a sudden premonition that his generation in its years of effort had made possible a Periclean age, but had evolved no prospective Pericles. They had set the scene: was the cast adequate?
"It isn't just because two of them happen to be mine," went on Schofield. "It's self-evident. You couldn't match that crowd in any city in the country. First place, they're such a husky lot. Those two little Kavenaughs aren't going to be big men--more like their father; but the oldest one could make any college hockey-team in the country right now."
"How old are they?" asked Barnes.
"Well, Howard Kavenaugh, the oldest, is nineteen--going to Yale next year. Then comes my Wister--he's eighteen, also going to Yale next year. You liked Wister, didn't you? I don't know anybody who doesn't. He'd make a great politician, that kid. Then there's a boy named Larry Patt who wasn't here today--he's eighteen too, and he's State golf champion. Fine voice too; he's trying to get in Princeton."
"Who's the blond-haired one who looks like a Greek god?"
"That's Beau Lebaume. He's going to Yale, too, if the girls will let him leave town. Then there's the other Kavenaugh, the stocky one--he's going to be an even better athlete than his brother. And finally there's my youngest, Charley; he's sixteen," Schofield sighed reluctantly. "But I guess you've heard all the boasting you can stand."
"No, tell me more about them--I'm interested. Are they anything more than athletes?"
"Why, there's not a dumb one in the lot, except maybe Beau Lebaume; but you can't help liking him anyhow. And every one of them's a natural leader. I remember a few years ago a tough gang tried to start something with them, calling them 'candies'--well, that gang must be running yet. They sort of remind me of young knights. And what's the matter with their being athletes? I seem to remember you stroking the boat at New London, and that didn't keep you from consolidating railroad systems and--"
"I took up rowing because I had a sick stomach," said Barnes. "By the way, are these boys all rich?"
"Well, the Kavenaughs are, of course; and my boys will have something."
Barnes' eyes twinkled.
"So I suppose since they won't have to worry about money, they're brought up to serve the State," he suggested. "You spoke of one of your sons having a political talent and their all being like young knights, so I suppose they'll go out for public life and the army and navy."
"I don't know about that," Schofield's voice sounded somewhat alarmed. "I think their fathers would be pretty disappointed if they didn't go into business. That's natural, isn't it?"
"It's natural, but it isn't very romantic," said Barnes good-humoredly.
"You're trying to get my goat," said Schofield. "Well, if you can match that--"
"They're certainly an ornamental bunch," admitted Barnes. "They've got what you call glamour. They certainly look like the cigarette ads in the magazine; but--"
"But you're an old sour-belly," interrupted Schofield. "I've explained that these boys are all well-rounded. My son Wister led his class at school this year, but I was a darn' sight prouder that he got the medal for best all-around boy."
The two men faced each other with the uncut cards of the future on the table before them. They had been in college together, and were friends of many years' standing. Barnes was childless, and Schofield was inclined to attribute his lack of enthusiasm to that.
"I somehow can't see them setting the world on fire, doing better than their fathers," broke out Barnes suddenly. "The more charming they are, the harder it's going to be for them. In the East people are beginning to realize what wealthy boys are up against. Match them? Maybe not now." He leaned forward, his eyes lighting up. "But I could pick six boys from any high-school in Cleveland, give them an education, and I believe that ten years from this time your young fellows here would be utterly outclassed. There's so little demanded of them, so little expected of them--what could be softer than just to have to go on being charming and athletic?"
"I know your idea," objected Schofield scoffingly. "You'd go to a big municipal high-school and pick out the six most brilliant scholars--"
"I'll tell you what I'll do--" Barnes noticed that he had unconsciously substituted "I will" for "I would," but he didn't correct himself. "I'll go to the little town in Ohio, where I was born--there probably aren't fifty or sixty boys in the high-school there, and I wouldn't be likely to find six geniuses out of that number."
"I'll give them a chance. If they fail, the chance is lost. That is a serious responsibility, and they've got to take it seriously. That's what these boys haven't got--they're only asked to be serious about trivial things." He thought for a moment. "I'm going to do it."
"I'm going to see."
A fortnight later he was back in the small town in Ohio where he had been born, where, he felt, the driving emotions of his own youth still haunted the quiet streets. He interviewed the principal of the high-school, who made suggestions; then by the, for Barnes, difficult means of making an address and afterward attending a reception, he got in touch with teachers and pupils. He made a donation to the school, and under cover of this found opportunities of watching the boys at work and at play.
It was fun--he felt his youth again. There were some boys that he liked immediately, and he began a weeding-out process, inviting them in groups of five or six to his mother's house, rather like a fraternity rushing freshman. When a boy interested him, he looked up his record and that of his family--and at the end of a fortnight he had chosen five boys.
In the order in which he chose them, there was first Otto Schlach, a farmer's son who had already displayed extraordinary mechanical aptitude and a gift for mathematics. Schlach was highly recommended by his teachers, and he welcomed the opportunity offered him of entering the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
A drunken father left James Matsko as his only legacy to the town of Barnes' youth. From the age of twelve, James had supported himself by keeping a newspaper-and-candy store with a three-foot frontage; and now at seventeen he was reputed to have saved five hundred dollars. Barnes found it difficult to persuade him to study money and banking at Columbia, for Matsko was already assured of his ability to make money. But Barnes had prestige as the town's most successful son, and he convinced Matsko that otherwise he would lack frontage, like his own place of business.
Then there was Jack Stubbs, who had lost an arm hunting, but in spite of this handicap played on the high-school football team. He was not among the leaders in studies; he had developed no particular bent; but the fact that he had overcome that enormous handicap enough to play football--to tackle and to catch punts--convinced Barnes that no obstacles would stand in Jack Stubbs' way.
The fourth selection was George Winfield, who was almost twenty. Because of the death of his father, he had left school at fourteen, helped to support his family for four years, and then, things being better, he had come back to finish high-school. Barnes felt, therefore, that Winfield would place a serious value on an education.
Next came a boy whom Barnes found personally antipathetic. Louis Ireland was at once the most brilliant scholar and most difficult boy at school. Untidy, insubordinate and eccentric, Louis drew scurrilous caricatures behind his Latin book, but when called upon inevitably produced a perfect recitation. There was a big talent nascent somewhere in him--it was impossible to leave him out.
The last choice was the most difficult. The remaining boys were mediocrities, or at any rate they had so far displayed no qualities that set them apart. For a time Barnes, thinking patriotically of his old university, considered the football captain, a virtuosic halfback who would have been welcome on any Eastern squad; but that would have destroyed the integrity of the idea.
He finally chose a younger boy, Gordon Vandervere, of a rather higher standing than the others. Vandervere was the handsomest and one of the most popular boys in school. He had been intended for college, but his father, a harassed minister, was glad to see the way made easy.
Barnes was content with himself; he felt godlike in being able to step in to mold these various destinies. He felt as if they were his own sons, and he telegraphed Schofield in Minneapolis:
HAVE CHOSEN HALF A DOZEN OF THE OTHER, AND AM BACKING THEM AGAINST THE WORLD.
And now, after all this biography, the story begins. . . .
The continuity of the frieze is broken. Young Charley Schofield had been expelled from Hotchkiss. It was a small but painful tragedy--he and four other boys, nice boys, popular boys, broke the honor system as to smoking. Charley's father felt the matter deeply, varying between disappointment about Charley and anger at the school. Charley came home to Minneapolis in a desperate humor and went to the country day-school while it was decided what he was to do.
It was still undecided in midsummer. When school was over, he spent his time playing golf, or dancing at the Minnekada Club--he was a handsome boy of eighteen, older than his age, with charming manners, with no serious vices, but with a tendency to be easily influenced by his admirations. His principal admiration at the time was Gladys Irving, a young married woman scarcely two years older than himself. He rushed her at the club dances, and felt sentimentally about her, though Gladys on her part was in love with her husband and asked from Charley only the confirmation of her own youth and charm that a belle often needs after her first baby.
Sitting out with her one night on the veranda of the Lafayette Club, Charley felt a necessity to boast to her, to pretend to be more experienced, and so more potentially protective.
"I've seen a lot of life for my age," he said. "I've done things I couldn't even tell you about."
Gladys didn't answer.
"In fact last week--" he began, and thought better of it. "In any case I don't think I'll go to Yale next year--I'd have to go East right away, and tutor all summer. If I don't go, there's a job open in Father's office; and after Wister goes back to college in the fall, I'll have the roadster to myself."
"I thought you were going to college," Gladys said coldly.
"I was. But I've thought things over, and now I don't know. I've usually gone with older boys, and I feel older than boys my age. I like older girls, for instance." When Charley looked at her then suddenly, he seemed unusually attractive to her--it would be very pleasant to have him here, to cut in on her at dances all summer. But Gladys said:
"You'd be a fool to stay here."
"You started something--you ought to go through with it. A few years running around town, and you won't be good for anything."
"You think so," he said indulgently.
Gladys didn't want to hurt him or to drive him away from her; yet she wanted to say something stronger.
"Do you think I'm thrilled when you tell me you've had a lot of dissipated experience? I don't see how anybody could claim to be your friend and encourage you in that. If I were you, I'd at least pass your examinations for college. Then they can't say you just lay down after you were expelled from school."
"You think so?" Charley said, unruffled, and in his grave, precocious manner, as though he were talking to a child. But she had convinced him, because he was in love with her and the moon was around her. "Oh me, oh my, oh you," was the last music they had danced to on the Wednesday before, and so it was one of those times.
Had Gladys let him brag to her, concealing her curiosity under a mask of companionship, if she had accepted his own estimate of himself as a man formed, no urging of his father's would have mattered. As it was, Charley passed into college that fall, thanks to a girl's tender reminiscences and her own memories of the sweetness of youth's success in young fields.
And it was well for his father that he did. If he had not, the catastrophe of his older brother Wister that autumn would have broken Schofield's heart. The morning after the Harvard game the New York papers carried a headline:
YALE BOYS AND FOLLIES GIRLS IN
MOTOR CRASH NEAR RYE
IRENE DALEY IN GREENWICH HOSPITAL THREATENS BEAUTY SUIT
MILLIONAIRE'S SON INVOLVED
The four boys came up before the dean a fortnight later. Wister Schofield, who had driven the car, was called first.
"It was not your car, Mr. Schofield," the dean said. "It was Mr. Kavenaugh's car, wasn't it?"
"How did you happen to be driving?"
"The girls wanted me to. They didn't feel safe."
"But you'd been drinking too, hadn't you?"
"Yes, but not so much."
"Tell me this," asked the dean: "Haven't you ever driven a car when you'd been drinking--perhaps drinking even more than you were that night?"
"Why--perhaps once or twice, but I never had any accidents. And this was so clearly unavoidable--"
"Possibly," the dean agreed; "but we'll have to look at it this way: Up to this time you had no accidents even when you deserved to have them. Now you've had one when you didn't deserve it. I don't want you to go out of here feeling that life or the University or I myself haven't given you a square deal, Mr. Schofield. But the newspapers have given this a great deal of prominence, and I'm afraid that the University will have to dispense with your presence."
Moving along the frieze to Howard Kavenaugh, the dean's remarks to him were substantially the same.
"I am particularly sorry in your case, Mr. Kavenaugh. Your father has made substantial gifts to the University, and I took pleasure in watching you play hockey with your usual brilliance last winter."
Howard Kavenaugh left the office with uncontrollable tears running down his cheeks.
Since Irene Daley's suit for her ruined livelihood, her ruined beauty, was directed against the owner and the driver of the automobile, there were lighter sentences for the other two occupants of the car. Beau Lebaume came into the dean's office with his arm in a sling and his handsome head swathed in bandages and was suspended for the remainder of the current year. He took it jauntily and said good-by to the dean with as cheerful a smile as could show through the bandages. The last case, however, was the most difficult. George Winfield, who had entered high-school late because work in the world had taught him the value of an education, came in looking at the floor.
"I can't understand your participation in this affair," said the dean. "I know your benefactor, Mr. Barnes, personally. He told me how you left school to go to work, and how you came back to it four years later to continue your education, and he felt that your attitude toward life was essentially serious. Up to this point you have a good record here at New Haven, but it struck me several months ago that you were running with a rather gay crowd, boys with a great deal of money to spend. You are old enough to realize that they couldn't possibly give you as much in material ways as they took away from you in others. I've got to give you a year's suspension. If you come back, I have every hope you'll justify the confidence that Mr. Barnes reposed in you."
"I won't come back," said Winfield. "I couldn't face Mr. Barnes after this. I'm not going home."
At the suit brought by Irene Daley, all four of them lied loyally for Wister Schofield. They said that before they hit the gasoline pump they had seen Miss Daley grab the wheel. But Miss Daley was in court, with her face, familiar to the tabloids, permanently scarred; and her counsel exhibited a letter canceling her recent moving-picture contract. The students' case looked bad; so in the intermission, on their lawyer's advice, they settled for forty thousand dollars. Wister Schofield and Howard Kavenaugh were snapped by a dozen photographers leaving the courtroom, and served up in flaming notoriety next day.
That night, Wister, the three Minneapolis boys, Howard and Beau Lebaume started for home. George Winfield said good-by to them in the Pennsylvania station; and having no home to go to, walked out into New York to start life over.
Of all Barnes' protégés, Jack Stubbs with his one arm was the favorite. He was the first to achieve fame--when he played on the tennis team at Princeton, the rotogravure section carried pictures showing how he threw the ball from his racket in serving. When he was graduated, Barnes took him into his own office--he was often spoken of as an adopted son. Stubbs, together with Schlach, now a prominent consulting engineer, were the most satisfactory of his experiments, although James Matsko at twenty-seven had just been made a partner in a Wall Street brokerage house. Financially he was the most successful of the six, yet Barnes found himself somewhat repelled by his hard egoism. He wondered, too, if he, Barnes, had really played any part in Matsko's career--did it after all matter whether Matsko was a figure in metropolitan finance or a big merchant in the Middle West, as he would have undoubtedly become without any assistance at all.
One morning in 1930 he handed Jack Stubbs a letter that led to a balancing up of the book of boys.
"What do you think of this?"
The letter was from Louis Ireland in Paris. About Louis they did not agree, and as Jack read, he prepared once more to intercede in his behalf.
MY DEAR SIR:
After your last communication, made through your bank here and enclosing a check which I hereby acknowledge, I do not feel that I am under any obligation to write you at all. But because the concrete fact of an object's commercial worth may be able to move you, while you remain utterly insensitive to the value of an abstract idea--because of this I write to tell you that my exhibition was an unqualified success. To bring the matter even nearer to your intellectual level, I may tell you that I sold two pieces--a head of Lallette, the actress, and a bronze animal group--for a total of seven thousand francs ($280.00). Moreover I have commissions which will take me all summer--I enclose a piece about me cut from CAHIERS D'ART, which will show you that whatever your estimate of my abilities and my career, it is by no means unanimous.
This is not to say that I am ungrateful for your well-intentioned attempt to "educate" me. I suppose that Harvard was no worse than any other polite finishing school--the years that I wasted there gave me a sharp and well-documented attitude on American life and institutions. But your suggestions that I come to America and make standardized nymphs for profiteers' fountains was a little too much--
Stubbs looked up with a smile.
"Well," Barnes said, "what do you think? Is he crazy--or now that he has sold some statues, does it prove that I'm crazy?"
"Neither one," laughed Stubbs. "What you objected to in Louis wasn't his talent. But you never got over that year he tried to enter a monastery and then got arrested in the Sacco-Vanzetti demonstrations, and then ran away with the professor's wife."
"He was just forming himself," said Barnes dryly, "just trying his little wings. God knows what he's been up to abroad."
"Well, perhaps he's formed now," Stubbs said lightly. He had always liked Louis Ireland--privately he resolved to write and see if he needed money.
"Anyhow, he's graduated from me," announced Barnes. "I can't do any more to help him or hurt him. Suppose we call him a success, though that's pretty doubtful--let's see how we stand. I'm going to see Schofield out in Minneapolis next week, and I'd like to balance accounts. To my mind, the successes are you, Otto Schlach, James Matsko,--whatever you and I may think of him as a man,--and let's assume that Louis Ireland is going to be a great sculptor. That's four. Winfield's disappeared. I've never had a line from him."
"Perhaps he's doing well somewhere."
"If he were doing well, I think he'd let me know. We'll have to count him as a failure so far as my experiment goes. Then there's Gordon Vandervere."
Both were silent for a moment.
"I can't make it out about Gordon," Barnes said. "He's such a nice fellow, but since he left college, he doesn't seem to come through. He was younger than the rest of you, and he had the advantage of two years at Andover before he went to college, and at Princeton he knocked them cold, as you say. But he seems to have worn his wings out--for four years now he's done nothing at all; he can't hold a job; he can't get his mind on his work, and he doesn't seem to care. I'm about through with Gordon."
At this moment Gordon was announced over the phone.
"He asked for an appointment," explained Barnes. "I suppose he wants to try something new."
A personable young man with an easy and attractive manner strolled in to the office.
"Good afternoon, Uncle Ed. Hi there, Jack!" Gordon sat down. "I'm full of news."
"About what?" asked Barnes.
"I know. You've just been appointed to arrange a merger between J. P. Morgan and the Queensborough Bridge."
"It's a merger," agreed Vandervere, "but those are not the parties to it. I'm engaged to be married."
"Her name," continued Vandervere, "is Esther Crosby."
"Let me congratulate you," said Barnes ironically. "A relation of H. B. Crosby, I presume."
"Exactly," said Vandervere unruffled. "In fact, his only daughter."
For a moment there was silence in the office. Then Barnes exploded.
"You're going to marry H. B. Crosby's daughter? Does he know that last month you retired by request from one of his banks?"
"I'm afraid he knows everything about me. He's been looking me over for four years. You see, Uncle Ed," he continued cheerfully, "Esther and I got engaged during my last year at Princeton--my roommate brought her down to a house-party, but she switched over to me. Well, quite naturally Mr. Crosby wouldn't hear of it until I'd proved myself."
"Proved yourself!" repeated Barnes. "Do you consider that you've proved yourself?"
"By waiting four years. You see, either Esther or I might have married anybody else in that time, but we didn't. Instead we sort of wore him away. That's really why I haven't been able to get down to anything. Mr. Crosby is a strong personality, and it took a lot of time and energy wearing him away. Sometimes Esther and I didn't see each other for months, so she couldn't eat; so then thinking of that I couldn't eat, so then I couldn't work--"
"And you mean he's really given his consent?"
"He gave it last night."
"Is he going to let you loaf?"
"No. Esther and I are going into the diplomatic service. She feels that the family has passed through the banking phase." He winked at Stubbs. "I'll look up Louis Ireland when I get to Paris, and send Uncle Ed a report."
Suddenly Barnes roared with laughter.
"Well, it's all in the lottery-box," he said. "When I picked out you six, I was a long way from guessing--" He turned to Stubbs and demanded: "Shall we put him under failure or under success?"
"A howling success," said Stubbs. "Top of the list."
A fortnight later Barnes was with his old friend Schofield in Minneapolis. He thought of the house with the six boys as he had last seen it--now it seemed to bear scars of them, like the traces that pictures leave on a wall that they have long protected from the mark of time. Since he did not know what had become of Schofield's sons, he refrained from referring to their conversation of ten years before until he knew whether it was dangerous ground. He was glad of his reticence later in the evening when Schofield spoke of his elder son, Wister.
"Wister never seems to have found himself--and he was such a high-spirited kid! He was the leader of every group he went into; he could always make things go. When he was young, our houses in town and at the lake were always packed with young people. But after he left Yale, he lost interest in things--got sort of scornful about everything. I thought for a while that it was because he drank too much, but he married a nice girl and she took that in hand. Still, he hasn't any ambition--he talked about country life, so I bought him a silver-fox farm, but that didn't go; and I sent him to Florida during the boom, but that wasn't any better. Now he has an interest in a dude-ranch in Montana; but since the depression--"
Barnes saw his opportunity and asked:
"What became of those friends of your sons' that I met one day?"
"Let's see--I wonder who you mean. There was Kavenaugh--you know, the flour people--he was here a lot. Let's see--he eloped with an Eastern girl, and for a few years he and his wife were the leaders of the gay crowd here--they did a lot of drinking and not much else. It seems to me I heard the other day that Howard's getting a divorce. Then there was the younger brother--he never could get into college. Finally he married a manicurist, and they live here rather quietly. We don't hear much about them."
They had had a glamour about them, Barnes remembered; they had been so sure of themselves, individually, as a group; so high-spirited, a frieze of Greek youths, graceful of body, ready for life.
"Then Larry Patt, you might have met him here. A great golfer. He couldn't stay in college--there didn't seem to be enough fresh air there for Larry." And he added defensively: "But he capitalized what he could do--he opened a sporting-goods store and made a good thing of it, I understand. He has a string of three or four."
"I seem to remember an exceptionally handsome one."
"Oh--Beau Lebaume. He was in that mess at New Haven too. After that he went to pieces--drink and what-not. His father's tried everything, and now he won't have anything more to do with him." Schofield's face warmed suddenly; his eyes glowed. "But let me tell you, I've got a boy--my Charley! I wouldn't trade him for the lot of them--he's coming over presently, and you'll see. He had a bad start, got into trouble at Hotchkiss--but did he quit? Never. He went back and made a fine record at New Haven, senior society and all that. Then he and some other boys took a trip around the world, and then he came back here and said: 'All right, Father, I'm ready--when do I start?' I don't know what I'd do without Charley. He got married a few months back, a young widow he'd always been in love with; and his mother and I are still missing him, though they come over often--"
Barnes was glad about this, and suddenly he was reconciled at not having any sons in the flesh--one out of two made good, and sometimes better, and sometimes nothing; but just going along getting old by yourself when you'd counted on so much from sons--
"Charley runs the business," continued Schofield. "That is, he and a young man named Winfield that Wister got me to take on five or six years ago. Wister felt responsible about him, felt he'd got him into this trouble at New Haven--and this boy had no family. He's done well here."
Another one of Barnes' six accounted for! He felt a surge of triumph, but he saw he must keep it to himself; a little later when Schofield asked him if he'd carried out his intention of putting some boys through college, he avoided answering. After all, any given moment has its value; it can be questioned in the light of after-events, but the moment remains. The young princes in velvet gathered in lovely domesticity around the queen amid the hush of rich draperies may presently grow up to be Pedro the Cruel or Charles the Mad, but the moment of beauty was there. Back there ten years, Schofield had seen his sons and their friends as samurai, as something shining and glorious and young, perhaps as something he had missed from his own youth. There was later a price to be paid by those boys, all too fulfilled, with the whole balance of their life pulled forward into their youth so that everything afterward would inevitably be anticlimax; these boys brought up as princes with none of the responsibilities of princes! Barnes didn't know how much their mothers might have had to do with it, what their mothers may have lacked.
But he was glad that his friend Schofield had one true son.
His own experiment--he didn't regret it, but he wouldn't have done it again. Probably it proved something, but he wasn't quite sure what. Perhaps that life is constantly renewed, and glamour and beauty make way for it; and he was glad that he was able to feel that the republic could survive the mistakes of a whole generation, pushing the waste aside, sending ahead the vital and the strong. Only it was too bad and very American that there should be all that waste at the top; and he felt that he would not live long enough to see it end, to see great seriousness in the same skin with great opportunity--to see the race achieve itself at last.